ORGANIZED CRIME IN KYRGYZSTAN

ORGANIZED CRIME IN KYRGYZSTAN

Organized crime and narco-trafficking are serious problems in Kyrgyzstan. They are particularly widespread in the south, especially in Batken and Osh provinces. According to the United Nations: “ According to law enforcement sources, Kyrgyz criminal groups are located in and around the country’s main drug trafficking hubs: (1) Talas (north); (2) Bishkek; (3) Issyk-Kyl; and (4) the southern region (including Osh, Batken and Jalalabad and their respective regions). Some geographical differences can be observed: gangs in Bishkek tend to concentrate on racketeering, embezzling state assets or controlling the expanding market of Chinese smuggled goods. [Source: “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012]

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “Organized criminal groups in Kyrgyzstan began to appear in late 1980s and start of the 1990s, just as they did in other post-Soviet states, when the socio-economic and political life of the newly independent states was unstable and fragile. The society was stepping into a market economy to survive. Economic changes caused part of the society to become poorer, while enriching other parts. Some business owners became racketeers and criminals, and even former athletes were drawn into criminal groups. It is difficult to estimate how many organized criminal groups were operating at that time, because they differed in scale and size from a few to hundreds of members.” [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: “Organized crime in Kyrgyzstan is at the stage of fluid development and is mainly comprised of small groups (up to 10 people) and a localized form of criminal activity with a narrow “specialty.” But there is a growing tendency of transforming to criminal groups with a relatively large membership, a complex hierarchic structure of management, a multi-purpose and a flexible specialization seeking to increase regional (intra-regional) criminal activity. [Source: Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies, Saltanat Berdikeeva is a Senior Research Analyst at the Energy Policy Research Foundation, Washington DC, and a contributing security Analyst for Exclusive Analysis, London]

Kambarov wrote” “Today, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there are four stable organized criminal groups with recognized leaders in the criminal sphere. These groups are known by their leaders: Kamchy Kolbayev, Aziz Batukayev, Almaz Bokushev, and Maksat Abakirov. The first two criminal leaders hold the highest “rank” in the criminal sphere—vor v zakone (Thief in Law). There are also smaller organized criminal groups that operate independently throughout Kyrgyzstan. Although it is difficult to identify an exact number of all the members of all organized criminal groups, more than 600 members of organized criminal groups are “registered” by the Ministry. “ /=\

“Thief in Law” and Structure of Crime Groups in Kyrgyzstan

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “ Organized crime has preserved its hierarchical system, traditions and ranks. The second person in significance in the criminal world after the vor v zakone is the polozhenets, who replaces the boss in his absence and is usually appointed by the latter to control the territory and conduct matters. Then there is the smotryashii, or “watcher,” a criminal leader who gathers kickbacks. These figures have their own subcultures, unwritten rules, and strictly abided traditions. However, today in Kyrgyzstan, there is a layer of criminals, basically youths, who commit crimes in gangs, or in organized form, but do not care about criminal rules and do not yield to them, often fighting with other organized crime group members. They may organize randomly and may leave the group at any time. [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

“To reach the status of “Thief in Law” one must meet certain requirements, or obey rules of criminal life. These include time served in prison, never having served in the army, and never having worked in the government. The rank is conferred in the skhodka—a sort of assembly of “Thieves in Law”, which convenes to solve the most important issues. If during Soviet times, the rank of “Thief in Law” could be conferred by up to three people, after the 1990s the quorum was enlarged to as many as 18 to 20, so to avoid corruption in conferring the criminal rank. /=\

“Thieves in Law” can solve any contentious issues in criminal life. Acting like judges in court, they run in parallel their own institution of justice. Decisions issued by them must be carried out, though if the decision is found to be unjust, the case can be put to the quorum of “Thieves in Law” and can lead to the murder of the one in question in the case that his unjust decision caused substantial harm. The influence of “Thieves in Law” on prisoners and other organized criminal groups is undoubtedly strong, and politicians can use this fact as a political tool. Equally important to note is that the rank of “Thief in Law” is not eternal and can be taken away in a skhodka if the person in question makes mistakes, or decides not to lead a criminal lifestyle, or does things like live in luxury, or enter politics. Police Lieutenant-General (Ret.) Alexandr Gurov notes that, in the Soviet period, there were two reasons for stripping oneself of the rank of “Thief in Law”: disease and love; that is, deciding to have a family and conduct a normal family life. /=\

“During Soviet times the “Thieves in Law” established their own rules in the prisons and were a recognized informal authority. The reason for the penal administration’s inaction toward the criminal world was that there were reciprocal benefits: “Thieves in Law” made prisoners work in factories in penal institutions, enabling officers of the penal administration to get promoted for meeting production plans. The government could have quickly dealt with these criminal leaders along with their rules anytime. Criminal leaders of any level clearly understood these limits and could not take a stand against the government. Today there is a new generation of “Thieves in Law” that tends to change the rules by getting into politics and business. Many of the old generation have been killed by contemporary new “Thieves in Law” to change criminal rules and they have lost the essence of the rank, which no longer has to do with deciding justice in criminal life. Essentially, they have preserved the external attributes only and are can be apprehended as Mafiosi.” /=\

Organized Crime Activities in Kyrgyzstan

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: The drug trade is a profitable business for organized crime groups in Kyrgyzstan, consequently, it is increasingly common. Geography makes Kyrgyzstan a convenient route for such trafficking. The Kyrgyz Interior Minister anticipated in December 2008 a rise in drug trafficking from Afghanistan through Kyrgyzstan, the grounds for such a projection being “a rich opium harvest in Afghanistan in 2008.” The location of the southern city of Osh is pivotal to drug trade. According to Kyrgyz officials, “there are many trafficking groups operating in Osh, which repackage Afghan opiates and smuggle them north using a variety of transportation methods.” Traces of the “Kyrgyz” hashish and opium were found in 87 places in the CIS and further abroad. Interpol experts see the “Kyrgyz corridor” as the most promising for international drug trade. [Source: Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies +++]

Human trafficking is another thriving industry in Kyrgyzstan. According to the 2004 estimate of the International Office for Migration (IOM), “4,000 Kyrgyzstanis per year are sold into slavery. Men are often taken to Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia for work on tobacco plantations, farms and in construction.” Both men and women end up in labor or sexual slavery in Russia, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, China, Germany, Greece, Korea, Greece and Cyprus. Human traffickers are not necessarily large well-organized groups. Some of the trafficking victims recounted that “traffickers are often known to them as either friends or family members, according to information from the IOM.” Corrupt police officers in Kyrgyzstan are allegedly also involved in human trafficking.The hefty profit this brings to traffickers can be attributed to the rise in human slavery. +++

“Arms trade exists to a limited degree in Kyrgyzstan. Nearly ten arms storages of the IMU were uncovered in mountainous parts of Batken and Osh provinces in early 2000, most likely brought to the country as part of its initial 1999 invasion.A theft of weapons from government depots has also been a recurring problem in Kyrgyzstan. As in other neighboring countries, smuggling of radioactive materials from or through Kyrgyzstan has been a concern. In September 2004, the Kyrgyz security forces seized sixty containers of plutonium 239 stolen from the country, which the “Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security stressed were sufficient to produce a dirty bomb.” +++

“Criminal groups in Kyrgyzstan also carry out “theft of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, which is becoming increasingly common in the republic. [In 2000, President Akayev said] the damage caused by theft of non-ferrous metals has exceeded 150 million soms in the past one and a half years.” Similar to Tajikistan, money laundering in Kyrgyzstan is a big concern due to the booming drug trade and the significant share of “grey” capital. “The major sources of illegal proceeds include narco-trafficking, smuggling of consumer goods, official corruption and tax evasion.” +++

“Kyrgyzstan approved its first law on money laundering and combating terrorism financing in November 2006,but the jury is still out to assess its implementation. Although certain provisions exist to elicit customer identification and encourage banks to report suspicious transaction, such rules are thought “to be generally ignored by commercial banks.” Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz law enforcement is powerless to assume adequate control and investigations over the banking sector due to the chronic lack of resources. “ +++

Organized Crime Groups and Smuggling in Kyrgyzstan

Researcher Alexander Kupatadze wrote: “There are about 22 criminal groups operating in Kyrgyzstan. Most of these are concentrated around the capital city, Bishkek, and the Osh area in southern Kyrgyzstan. These gangs are either directly involved in legal and illicit businesses or provide protection for wealthy businessmen. [Source: Alexander Kupatadze, PhD candidate, School of International Relations St. Andrews University, UK, 2007 ^^^]

Organized crime groups are more involved in the smuggling of illegal goods, such as drugs. For instance the group of Jenish Rahimov in Osh, South Kyrgyzstan and the family of Chechen criminal leader Aziz Batukaev in the Chui reigion of the North both control part of the drugs trafficking routes in their respective regions. However empirical evidence shows that organized crime groups engage in anything that generates high profits. For instance, the Karabaltinskaia group in the North controls the smuggling of wheat, alcoholic beverages and fuel from Kazakhstan.The head of the group is Almaz Bokushev, a former freestyle wrestler having links with several former and serving officials, among them a former Minister of Internal Affairs. ^^^

“In the South, an Uzbek organized criminal group is involved in smuggling legal goods to and from Uzbekistan. The group is linked to and protected by an MP of Uzbek origin from the South and the mayor of Karasuu, site of Karasuu market. A. Jumabaev, an influential criminal from the town of Jalalabad in the South is involved in the smuggling of burr walnut to Uzbekistan.^^^

“Organized crime groups not only protect or directly engage in smuggling activities, but they frequently control local markets/bazaars and moreover, dominate economic activity in certain regions. For instance, in Talas region the organized crime group having links to the regional and district administration controls the prices of haricot beans, the main agricultural product grown in the region. The normal buyers are Turkish businessmen, who are obliged to buy the product through this crime group since they are prevented from talking directly to local producers. The same applies to cotton production in the South, according to Kyrgyz experts. Despite the significant involvement of organized crime groups in smuggling legal goods the main contributor to the criminal economy of Kyrgyzstan is the drugs trade.” ^^^

Drug Traffickers, Terrorists and Gangsters in Kyrgyzstan

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “According to the First Deputy of the Interior Ministry, Police Major-General Jusubaliev Baktybek, there are 30 organized criminal groups directly connected with drug trafficking, and today 80% of all 17,000 prisoners in Kyrgyzstan are drug addicts. Drug trafficking is a profitable business not only for organized crime, but also for religious extremists. Although most religions prohibit dealing with drugs in any form, religious extremists justify their involvement in drug trafficking with the argument that the drugs will go to Russia and kill infidels. [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

According to the United Nations: “Gangs in the southern region tend to specialize in the drug trade. There are numerous drug groups in the south: 12 in the Osh region and city of Osh, including Uzbek and Tajik groups; 7 in the Batken region; 6 in Jalalabad region versus 6 drug-trafficking groups in Bishkek city (including a Caucasian group and a Roma group) and 8 in the Chuy region (including Chechen groups, Kurdish groups and a Roma group). In all, 40 organized crime groups are estimated to be involved in the drug trade, although not all carry out transnational activities (i.e. Issyk-Kyl based groups). This is the low end of the range as the Russian FDCS reportedly estimates the number of groups to be 70. [Source: “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012 |*|]

“ The main power brokers are ethnic Kyrgyz groups based in Osh and Bishkek who are reported to control up to 80 per cent of the criminal markets, following the interethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. A typical structure consists of interdependent and essential component divisions, each with a specialized area of responsibility. Different members act as transporters, financiers and enforcers. At the top is the organizer, now likely to be an ethnic Kyrgyz. Former or current law enforcement officers, usually in the extended family of the organizer, are responsible for facilitating transport. The presence of current and former law enforcement officials in criminal groups makes it difficult to infiltrate and neutralize them. |*|

“There have long been anecdotal reports that Kyrgyzstan’s opiate trade is helping fund arms purchases and other needs for IMU and like-minded groups. Kyrgyz law enforcement is sensitive to this possibility, particularly as it relates to Batken province, but provided no evidence that this was occurring. On some occasions, seizures in Kyrgyzstan involved finding extremist literature along with the drugs; however, this is scant evidence with which to draw any definitive conclusions.” |*|

Organized Crime and the Akayev Government in Kyrgyzstan

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, former President Askar Akayev and his family were reported to have had ties to organized crime. As the FBI report showed, “Akayev’s family controlled a vast criminal network, which included even several holding companies in the U.S..” The report detailed that, …175 organizations with ties to Akayev’s organization were under investigation and some of them were suspected of a wide-ranging criminal activity that extended to the U.S., where the former President’s family was connected with an American, who created about 6,000 front companies for criminal groups, weapons sale, drug transport, as well as cyber crime. [Source: Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies]

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “The rise of corruption after the collapse of the Soviet Union produced many corrupted high-ranking officials in Kyrgyzstan. Even after they are convicted, many of these corrupt officials pay “smart money” to organized crime groups to ensure their own security in prison. According to the Chief of the State Penal Service of Kyrgyzstan, criminals know better than anyone about the level of corruption and financial status’ of officials charged with corruption.” [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015]

Organized Crime and the Bakiev Government in Kyrgyzstan

B. Rose Huber of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School wrote: Researcher Alexander “Kupatadze said it is believed by many that Kyrgyzstan most resembled the status of a narco-state while under Bakiyev's rule, which lasted from 2005 to 2010 when he was ousted by protestors. Under Bakiyev's leadership, the criminalization of the state reached its peak, and close relatives to Bakiyev were involved in the drug trade. "The criminalization of the state penetrated so deeply during this time that corrupt interests undermined formal law enforcement institutions," Kupatadze said. "In Kyrgyzstan, there are near monopolists in the market who rarely interfere in each other's area of influence. This is reinforced by the corrupt interest of politicians and law enforcement officials." [Source: Alexander Kupatadze and B. Rose Huber, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton, March 17, 2014; "Kyrgyzstan – A virtual narco-state?" International Journal of Drug Policy, January 31, 2014]

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: The post-Akayev Kyrgyz government has been deeply divided on the issue of organized crime. In early 2006, the then Prime Minister Feliks Kulov’s statement that organized crime was “taking over the state,” which was brushed aside by President Kurmanbek Bakiev. At the same time, both President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov were implicated in corruption and ties with organized crime. Reportedly, Bakiev’s son, Maksim, has figured prominently behind “takeovers of businesses that belonged to or were associated with the former President Akayev’s family, sometimes resorting to raiding techniques towards promising enterprises if their owners were unwilling to come to an agreement” [Source:Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies +++]

Meanwhile, the law enforcement agencies and security services of the country have been implicated in colluding with criminals since the revolution. One such agency is the National Security Service (SNB), which in February 2006 came under attack from the legislators and Prime Minister Kulov who accused the agency of “not only of failing to do its job, but also of employing criminals.”Three senior officials in the SNB were either dismissed or resigned voluntarily in the winter of 2006. One of them, Vyacheslav Khan, a deputy Security Council Secretary at the time, had three citizenships and “was involved in several murky business ventures.”

“President Bakiev maintained a low profile throughout the showdown. The post-revolution Kyrgyz government’s weakness and ineffectiveness has raised questions of the viability of the Kyrgyz state in the West, especially after assassinations of parliamentarians and the overt pretensions for legitimacy and acceptance of certain odious crime figures such as Rysbek Akmatbayev, who was gunned down in May 2006 as he waited to overcome legal obstacles following his parliamentary victory in his district. He was known in Kyrgyzstan as a mafia “kingpin,” who faced triple murder charges, racketeering, kidnapping, and embezzlement, among other crimes. Akmatbayev’s removal hardly eliminated the organized crime, protected by state officials. Reportedly, semi-criminal forces, funded by the drug money, wield considerable influence in some parts of Kyrgyzstan, especially in the south.” +++

Increasing Boldness of Organized Crime in Kyrgyzstan After 2005

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “The flawed March 2005 power change in Kyrgyzstan opened a “Pandora’s box” of new dangers and challenges for the country, among which is the unprecedented menace of organized crime. In the wake of the revolution, the country has witnessed a string of high profile assassinations. There is evidence of ties between government officials and organized crime. Kyrgyzstan’s organized crime problems emerged in an environment of uncertainty, power vacuum and change.” [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

The “2005 coup in Kyrgyzstan brought political instability and intensified the integration of criminals into politics. Members of organized criminal groups tried to penetrate into state power through local and national parliaments. At a September 2013 meeting devoted to issues of organized crime—conducted at the Interior Ministry and attended by the Prime Minister—the chief of the Organized Crime Combating Division reported that 12 members of organized criminal groups had just been elected members of local governments. This is just one example of efforts by members of organized criminal groups to provide cover for their criminal activities. [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: Since the Tulip Revolution in March 2005 in Kyrgyzstan, it is perhaps the only Central Asian country where the influence of organized crime on the state has proved to be more apparent and increasingly bold. This was evidenced by high profile contract killings of parliamentary deputies and public figures, as well as a series of prison riots, reportedly instigated by mobsters. [Source: Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies +++]

“Under different circumstances, the Kyrgyz organized crime may have continued to stay in the shadows to continue its tacit partnership with the state. But the 2005 coup in the country created a power vacuum and uncertainty about the country’s leadership, thereby auguring more uncertainty on the property rights and economic gains of those who benefited under former President Askar Akayev. In 2008, police analysts predicted more criminal activity involving contract killings of various crime leaders in efforts to gain leadership and to divide property. +++

“Criminals are increasingly fearless of the Kyrgyz law enforcement and special security services. For example, when members of the “KaraBalta organized crime group were detained and held in the National Security Service jail, the relatives and acquaintances of the arrested encircled the building the next day and were able to get their release by pressuring the special services.” Moreover, organized crime figures try to come out of the shadow to “legalize” themselves and openly seek power-sharing. As a well-known Kyrgyz political analyst, Nur Omarov, observed: “all branches of power began to give in to criminal structures in terms of authority and influence.” +++

“Factors facilitating the growth of organized crime in Kyrgyzstan are multi-faceted, including the rise of nationalism, impoverishment of the population, disintegration of a single mechanism of state power, worsening conditions in the army, low technical equipment of the law enforcement agencies and weak links and cooperation between state agencies.” +++

Organized Crime and Politics in Kyrgyzstan

According to the United Nations: “In Kyrgyzstan, over time these groups have managed to establish a presence in state structures, including winning seats in parliament and posts in other government bodies. Kyrgyz organized crime is in rapid evolution, reflecting the ongoing political, economic and social changes affecting the country. One important feature is the previously cited north-south divide that runs right through the Kyrgyz socio-political landscape. [Source: “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012 |*|]

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “Organized crime in Kyrgyzstan does not limit itself to traditional crimes, but has actively penetrated into business and politics. It has spread and inculcated a criminal ideology and a cult of criminality among various layers of society, and particularly among the youth. In high schools, students gather and pay “kickbacks” to criminal ringleaders, who in their turn pass it on to higher criminal leaders. There is a criminal leader in almost every high school called the smotryashii, who monitors income from racketeering among high-school students. Criminal ideology gets spread among the youth through social networks, and on the Internet, where criminal leaders are praised for their supposed good deeds. Being part of a criminal group certainly ensures better financial status, which is one of the main reasons for joining. The lack of sports’ financing and support for sportsmen by the government also causes many young sportsmen to join criminal groups where their physical abilities are used for criminal purposes. Many organized crime groups support themselves financially through drug trafficking, but some have used those funds to build mosques in hope that all sins will be forgiven by Allah.” [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

Some politicians use criminal groups for political purposes. “A case in point occurred during the anti-government political demonstrations in Bishkek in the spring of 2007, when government individuals brought in criminal elements from other parts of the country’s south, basically to use them against opposition members during the demonstration in order to frighten them. Other similar examples occurred in the Issyk-Kul region in May 2013, when the opposition used local criminal elements to organize and support political demonstrations against the government. /=\

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: According to some sources, certain individuals with ties to the drug trade in the south were able to get “immunity and influence by being elected to parliament.” A murder of a deputy of parliament, Bayaman Erkinbaev, in September 2005 was linked to a “dispute with Kyrgyz mafia groups” and he allegedly had a criminal past.A study of these and other events point to the increasing assertiveness of criminal elements in the country, while the central government is fragile and ineffective, particularly in far flung provinces and rural areas. The ability of criminal elements to gain access to power is at least partly facilitated by the support they get from the local populations as they distribute goods, “build roads and mosques and provide electricity” to poor and neglected areas. [Source: Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies]

Jihadists and Organized Crime in Kyrgyzstan

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “Defeating organized crime is difficult enough when it is intertwined with politics. It is much more difficult still to defeat it when it is intertwined with radical ideologies. Many policymakers consider terrorism and organized crime as distinct threats. But in Kyrgyzstan we are seeing criminals not only integrated into politics but also becoming ideologically radicalized. Historically, many leaders of terrorist organizations such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were criminals before they became radicals, for instance Jumaboi Hodjiev. [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

“Criminals are not only integrated into politics but are also becoming ideologically radicalized. As organized crime researcher Tamara Makarenko notes, the nature of alliances between groups varies, and can include one-off, short-term, and long-term relationships. Furthermore, alliances include ties established for a variety of reasons such as seeking expert knowledge (i.e., money-laundering, counterfeiting, or bomb-making), or operational support (i.e., access to smuggling routes). In many respects, alliance formations are akin to relationships that develop within legitimate business settings. Alliances that form between terrorist organizations and organized crime may be based initially on economic, operational, and other interests. However, ultimately they find common ground in radical ideology. A recent case in point is the appearance of the terrorist group Jaushul Magdi—Righteous Ruler—in Bishkek. The members of this organization have perpetrated several terrorist attacks in the capital city, including the murder of three police officers on January 4, 2011. They were radicalized under the influence of extremist and terrorists’ websites, as well as under the strong influence of Russian terrorist Alexandr Tikhomirov, also known as Said Buryatski. However, most of them were known to be criminals before they got radicalized and declared Jihad on the Kyrgyz government. /=\

“Another issue that calls for attention is the involvement of youth in organized crime groups that wield religious slogans. Today, some radical organizations gradually take care of prisoners’ families by supporting them with basic needs like food and financial assistance. It is interesting that similar support is provided in Saudi Arabia, but it comes from the government. For instance, when a breadwinner is incarcerated, several state organizations like the Committee for Supporting Prisoners and their Families provide a family with an alternative source of income. The amount of the replacement income varies on a case-by-case basis. Other needs, including children’s schooling and family health care, are also provided for and facilitated. /=\

“This aid is intended to prevent the possible radicalization that may be brought on by increased hardship as a result of the arrest and detention of family members. The government recognizes that if it fails to provide this support, it is very possible that extremist elements will move in. The effectiveness of such an approach maybe argued, but it definitely has a positive effect. Unfortunately the budget of the Kyrgyz government is not large enough to be able to afford such a program. A more realistic approach would consist in paying special attention to this issue by involving all possible participants, including civil society, and not leaving this problem to the security agencies to resolve alone. A “whole-of-government” approach is needed with the much earlier involvement of all state agencies, non-government organizations, and religious institutes, if it is to be made successful. /=\

“It is clear that radical organizations and organized criminal groups are united in many of their interests and goals. Both would like to destabilize the political situation, and undermine security agencies. Criminals always seek to take advantage of chaos, and destabilization is a fundamental goal of international terrorist organizations. Both are also dedicated to promoting corruption in the court system.” /=\

Wrestlers, Chechens and Organized Crime in Kyrgyzstan

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: “Criminal bosses acted openly to gain local support by organizing “public events [and] festivals, giving out money to the people, taking over companies supposedly for the sake of the people.” An important part of the Kyrgyz criminal world is the athletic criminal community. As the UNODC study shows, athletes “such as boxers, practitioners of the martial arts, wrestlers and weightlifters, often provide the muscle of organized crime and play a critical role in extortion” in Kyrgyzstan, which is characteristic to the organized crime present in other countries of the former Soviet Union. [Source:Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies +++]

“Such athletes engage in extortions and frauds and are often on the payroll of mob leaders to commit crimes and to settle gang disputes. The composition of the Kyrgyz criminal underworld is not limited to athletes. It also includes national groups (Chechens and Uyghurs, for example), former convicts, clans, and transnational groups. Some groups based on nationality can be small in size but dangerous nonetheless. For instance, a dismantled criminal group of a Chechen Khavardzhi Matsaev was made up of 12 people. +++

“The Chechens active in the Kyrgyz criminal world have largely been ordinary people, not militants. Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan also have their criminal authorities, who wield influence in their ethnic circles. Ethnic communities seem to have acquired a “criminal specialty” in Kyrgyzstan, as in its neighboring countries: “the Gypsies distribute drugs; the Uygur criminal groups concentrate on extortion activities; the Chechen [engage] in assaults, extortions, professional assassinations and smuggling of petroleum.”“ +++

Combating Organized Crime in Kyrgyzstan

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “The public would be more willing to report crimes to law enforcement agencies if they had its trust. The Republic of Georgia can be seen as a successful example of gaining people’s trust in police in the post-Soviet era. Although some experts have warned that police reform fell short in Georgia, the result of this reform effort speaks for itself. There is no doubt that reform needs financial and human resources, but more importantly it needs political will, which the leadership of the Georgian state had and applied. [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

“When state leaders do not have the requisite political will, the routine work of the existing system will continue, and consequently people lose trust in it. Strategies and concepts to counter terrorism and organized crime will remain on paper only. The current state of affairs will be hard to change while sections of the public support the current conditions because of personal and financial connections. But many political, economic, social, and security issues can be overcome by hiring decent and qualified personnel in government, security agencies, and police departments through transparent selection procedures and merit-based promotion. /=\

“It would be preferable to see the establishment of a separate state agency explicitly committed to fighting terrorism and religious extremism. But there is no financial means for this in Kyrgyzstan. This entails that the state should strengthen the existing police force through training, capacity building, and providing technical and other support for preventing terrorism. Kyrgyzstan’s leaders must forge some political will, provide financial backing, and gain the support of the public, if they are to make any drastic changes or reforms in the security sector, and particularly in law enforcement agencies.” /=\

“According to the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for Fighting Organized Crime, in 2007 there were “12 organized criminal groups, five of which were well established.” In April 2009, the Kyrgyz Interior Minister, Moldomusa Kongantiev, announced that “only two organized crime groups currently operated in the country and that law enforcement services liquidated six such groups in 2008.” [Source:Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies]

Police and Organized Crime in Kyrgyzstan

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “For decades, the primary role of law enforcement agencies in Kyrgyzstan was to prevent and solve common crimes. During the Soviet period, the agencies faced a familiar enemy—organized crime that was hierarchically organized, included a defined role for every member, and unwritten, but strictly followed, rules and traditions. However, with time came new threats, including the “radicalized organized crime” which resulted from post-Soviet socio-economic problems. [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

“Organized crime can be defeated by law enforcement, but facing “radicalized organized crime” seems a much more daunting task, one further complicated by current financial, technological, and political conditions. As organized crime in Kyrgyzstan is also intertwined with political power, it has penetrated into every level of government and parliament. All attempts of the powers-that-be have failed to solve these issues of crime, extremism, and corruption, or to address other social and economic grievances through the reform of state agencies. For example, attempts at reforming the court system, which plays a crucial role in establishing rule of law, have brought little success. /=\

“In Kyrgyzstan, as in other post-Soviet states, terrorism and extremism have always been a focus of the State Committee of National Security—the state intelligence agency. However, the Interior Ministry, including the National Police, has historically been one of the strongest state executive agencies in the government, and is responsible for ensuring law and order throughout the country. In the light of the growing threat of “radicalized organized crime,” the need is great for the joint involvement of, and close cooperation between, the two agencies that are responsible for security issues. /=\

Obstacles Combating Organized Crime in Kyrgyzstan

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: The police in Kyrgyzstan are largely demoralized, under-funded and undertrained. In the environment of corruption and lack of the rule of law in these Central Asian countries, sufficient training and funding may not be enough to raise police competency. For example, in 2001, while Kyrgyzstan remained a key location for drug trafficking, only “fourteen narcotics officers [were] responsible for the entire city of Bishkek [capital of Kyrgyzstan], where a quarter of the country’s 4 million people live.” [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

“Police chiefs have complained about the ineffectiveness of laws to combat organized crime. Georgia and Russia have laws that allow the authorities to apprehend known organized crime leaders based on their known criminal rank, but no such law exists in Kyrgyzstan. A new law for combating organized crime was passed by the Kyrgyz Parliament and endorsed by the President in May 2013. This law made changes and additions that have created better conditions for effectively combating organized crime. /=\

“Individuals suspected of being part of organized crime rings can now be targeted with preventive measures such as: official warnings; placement on a preventive registration in police agencies; obligations enforced by court decision; and background checks can be ordered on finances and property to discover unlawful connections. A court order is required for all preventive measures except the official warning, which is issued upon the decision of the Head of the Department for Combating Organized Crime. The effectiveness of these measures will depend on how they are put into practice, which may be limited by the technical and material capabilities of units combating organized crime.” /=\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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